Pavan Belagatti
Oct 22, 2015 · 2 min read

The Unpaid Internship Trap

In today’s job market, college graduates like me who “made the mistake” of studying a non-preprofessional track, as opposed to computer science, pre-med, etc., are faced with unprecedented uncertainty.

The classic Catch-22 persists: to get a job, you must have experience. To get experience, you must have a job. No one wants to be the first to hire a fresh graduate, yet everyone has to start somewhere.

The unpaid internship can be a blessing. If you are lucky enough to be able to dedicate your time to a bright young company, without concerns like student loan repayment or rent, it’s a great way to get out of the loop I described above.

The problem is unpaid internships are ripe for abuse as well. The reason employees are paid is to incentivize them to produce. Paying them also causes an employer to invest in their work, to care about whether or not they are engaged and productive.

An unpaid internship can become toxic if a few key criteria are met. If you are currently engaged in an “opportunity” that ticks most of these boxes, get the hell out.

1. The projects you’re working on are consistently triaged down to the bottom of your supervisor’s priority list.
2. You were brought on board to work in an area apart from the company’s main product, and you don’t see a clear path to revenue generation.
3. The company has no real sources of outside funding, and internal revenue generation comes from divisions you don’t work with.
4. The attitude of managers toward work that they deem distasteful, irritating, or boring is “get an intern”.
5. The most consistent work you do is fetching someone’s lunch.
6. There is an unspecified timeline as to when and how much you will get paid, even after you are told that you will.

The problem with an intern remaining unpaid is management has no incentive to invest in their work. Often, blunt management styles that work fine with paid employees can wreak psychological havoc if an intern doesn’t have the constant positive feedback of being paid. You lose respect for your time as a professional.

The fault almost always lies with both parties. If an internship goes from promising to cancerous, the intern failed to keep a consistently positive attitude and grind through rough patches, just as the manager continued to take the intern for granted.

But at the end of the day, an unpaid internship can rot based on lack of respect. If that happens, it’s up to the intern to have the self-respect to walk out the door.

Originally posted at Affimity

Credits source: http://affimity.com/Careers/post/21603

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Pavan Belagatti

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